Ghosts of Black Fridays past
Christmas shopping used to be less hectic, more local
By Roger Pitt
Sue admonished, “What you hear in the barbershop, stays in the barbershop,” as she fastened the cape around my neck.
She laughed as she recalled a recent haircut where the conversation became part of a column.
Deja vu all over again. That trite, redundant saying comes into play for a look at how shopping has evolved since my first Christmas in New London in 1964 and the transformation of a bustling business district that could fill all the requests to Santa.
Sue and Louise were paging through a catalog and price list, compiling a list to replenish stock necessary to serve customers. Prompt delivery to site was important.
I thought about Black Friday, a few days earlier, which was a key day for retailers’ profit for the year. Christmas shopping is different than 51 years ago.
The Post-Crescent’s Thanksgiving Day paper was the largest of the year, packed with ads and special sections promoting sales that began the next day. There were special stories about the trends and hot items of the year to accommodate the sales of small businesses unable to afford a section of their own.
The ads were the maps for shoppers to plot their strategy and prioritize a battle plan for the next morning.
Now sales begin weeks before Black Friday, and like Sue and Louise, there is more shopping by computer – it has its own designation: “Cyber Monday.”
Sue is a relatively new transplant in New London, while Louise was barely crawling when I settled in one-room at Cook and Oshkosh streets for a dozen years.
The evolution of shopping – or lack of it – in New London and other cities of all sizes, will seem unreal to people under their 40s.
You could buy virtually anything at the stores lining Pearl and North Water – U.S. 45 that ran through the downtown area – and adjoining streets. Shoppers also had options on stores to make purchases.
I did all of my shopping downtown – not easy for somebody my size for shirts and pants of enormous dimensions. Building friendships with the various owners and clerks also made shopping more a pleasure than a chore.
Don Pedersen ran the local Sears Outlet. “You got your shopping list,” he would ask when I entered his store that moved from Pearl to North Water Street over the years. With six nieces and one nephew it was easier to have them compile their Christmas wish list out of the Sears catalog and do the one stop, lazy man mode of shopping.
Jim Ehlke sold me a lot of shoes and ties I didn’t need – or wear – while ensuring I had everything from underwear to suits at Cristy’s. Laura, Bud Sanders and Harold Pieper also worked the first floor and sent sales receipts and cash in canister on a cable to Jim Cristy overlooking the sales floor from the balcony.
Ed Belot was my adviser on Christmas toys for the annual Thanksgiving day story on market trends. In addition, other hardware stores – Rieckbeil, Sport O’Lectric, Olsen’s and Tribbys – were downtown.
White goods were also available at several other sites, including TV Pliance, still located on North Water with Dorothy Nielsen still taking care of business.
Vandrees and Markman’s competed with Cristy’s, giving shoppers options. Years later Gary Markman would run his clothes shop in the Vandree building. Gary’s grandfather Isidor adopted New London and reportedly never spent a night out of it, opting to take the train to and from Chicago by rail, when that mode of travel was common.
Gary’s dad Harold ran the grocery store near the west end of North Water, while his uncle Max Bassewitz, managed the department store. His brother Larry would move the grocery store to North Shawano Street.
Dave Smith was running Fay R. Smith, which moved from the north side of Water to south side with Marlene Hoerning continuing to wrap the earnings for my grandmother every Christmas and other jewelry. Don Fuhrmann had his jewelry store a few doors west, separated by the Mid Town – now El Tequila – where he often met with Marlin Fuerst, owner of Sport O Lectric to discuss hunting and fishing.
Joe Kircher on Pearl and Cline Hanson’s on North Water were competing furniture businesses. Dave Rusch, of the latter, is retired but remains active in business ventures.
In addition, North Water included Lercher’s clothing store, Pichelmeyer’s Drug Store with a counter, (Larry Manderfield filled prescriptions at his business on Pearl), Ben Franklin Dime Store, Campbell’s women’s clothing, Ken Meating and Harold Rieckmann shoe stores, and a variety of grocery stores – including the original Ron & Lloyds, then a Red Owl affiliate.
None of the industry that lined the Wolf River remain, the latest to close being the former Borden Plant recently purchased for storage by Tom and Lori Hilker.
Gone are Georgia Pacific, began as U.S. Plywood, that spanned Bordens and Shawano Street; Simmons, better known as Edison because of its affiliation with Thomas Edison building cabinets for his inventions. It also gained notoriety constructing Little Folks Furniture.
Current sales ads have the message “Cyber Monday extended” at the end.
There is no beginning or end when it comes to shopping for Christmas. It just seemed easier years ago.